Movie Information

Ivete Lucas and Patrick Bresnan’s observational documentary brims with honesty and big emotions.
Genre: Documentary
Director: Patrick Bresnan and Ivete Lucas
Starring: Na’Kerria Nelson, Jocabed Martinez, Junior Walker and BJ Crawford
Rated: NR

The strong 2020 slate of documentaries is further fortified by Pahokee, directors Ivete Lucas and Patrick Bresnan’s observational look at the titular downtrodden Florida community through a year in the life of a diverse group of four high school seniors.

Reminiscent of Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady’s brilliant Detropia (2012) and the works of the filmmakers’ cited influences, Frederick Wiseman and the Maysles Brothers, Pahokee succeeds early and often through its crisp, colorful cinematography and fly-on-the-wall approach.

By following the quartet — cheerleader and hopeful Miss PHS, Na’Kerria; scholar and Mexican immigrant daughter Jacobed; drumline leader and teen father Junior; and football star BJ — Pahokee depicts the community more authentically than clichéd documentary components could likely achieve.

The directorial team’s commitment to letting the four youths speak for themselves is also less obtrusive and forced than traditional docs that rely on talking-head interviews and overly scripted voiceover narration to make their points.

The rare instances when the teens directly address the camera are brief iPhone confessional moments, recorded by the subjects themselves, which add private, personal reflections that the filmmakers’ cameras likely wouldn’t have captured — even with the trust they’ve so clearly built with the youths.

The film’s rich sense of place fosters a deep connection to its inhabitants across multiple individual and connected storylines, resulting in surprisingly dramatic arcs and several well-earned gut-punch moments.

Pahokee also sagely avoids the exploitative “poverty porn” tone of recent critically lauded docs like Hale County This Morning, This Evening and Minding the Gap. Rather than letting their subjects’ poor decisions drive the narrative or turning the squalor in which they live into a sensationalized character itself, Lucas and Bresnan maintain a soulful objectivity that gradually elevates their film to greatness.

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About Edwin Arnaudin
Edwin Arnaudin is a staff writer for Mountain Xpress. He also reviews films for and is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association (SEFCA) and North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA).

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